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The Basics

Like any other type of researching for debate, you can start off with the basics. Whenever a new topic comes out, I always encourage students to do a quick Google search without any reference to affirming or negating. This can even mean reading a Wikipedia page about a term of art in the resolution. It can be reading a generic article about the pros and cons of doing the resolution. This is a great tool to start with because you can use it as a launching point for your genuine and more credible research. Sometimes these sites will have citations that pique your interest and lead you to incredible academic work. 

I’d encourage you to use databases and, if you must use Google, try to use the “Advanced Search” function.

Other databases that are helpful include (but are not limited to):

  • Jstor
  • Google Scholar
  • Taylor & Francis
  • Academia.edu
  • Project muse
  • Google advanced search example screenshot

    These sources in particular are great for researching for kritikal debates because they include more academic, theoretical papers. A general search on other databases might give you statistics or articles about policy consequences. These sources allow for you to find authors who specifically talk about the scholarship you wish to discuss—both generally and in regards to the topic. 

    Each database has its own way of doing things, but I strongly encourage you to use Boolean operators when using any search engine. Boolean operators are keywords you can use in your searches to generate a more narrow result. There are many documents on them, but this source can be a good place to start. 

    Let’s say the topic is, Resolved: The appropriation of outer space by private entities is unjust. You’ve decided you want to find articles about space exploration and settler colonialism.

    ‘How is space exploration settler colonialist?’

    The same goes for any other scholarship you plan on reading and researching. These searches are case sensitive, so be sure to follow the conventions properly to best maximize your searches!

    Approaching New Literature Bases

    But wait. What if you do not know what type of K you want to read yet? I would encourage you to ask yourself the following four questions:

      1. What do you like? Do you enjoy talking about your identity? Do you love to sing and read poetry? Do you like to clinically analyze the way people feel? Do you like discussing trauma and how life can be better (or worse)? What you like can guide you to the type of K that suits you best. 
      2. What have you “heard through the grapevine”? Are there certain K’s you heard about as you were sitting in the cafeteria or at debate camp? Did you hear someone talk about ‘Afropessimism’ and have no idea what they were talking about? Let your curiosity get the best of you! You can use names you hear on your debate circuit to begin your research. If you hear someone talking about a position you do not know, type the phrase into Google and see what you find. Does it interest you? Read more! Does it bore and/or confuse you? Don’t worry, there are more things out there!
      3. What have you seen in rounds/from more experienced debaters? Maybe you are just starting JV debate. Use your upperclassmen to your advantage. Go watch elimination rounds in varsity when you do not make it to eliminations yourself. If someone is reading a K, pay attention. If you like it, reach out and try to find out more. This can introduce you to new ideas you never would have encountered in the first place.
      4. What have you seen on social media/in activist circles? With the digital age, online activism is extremely prevalent. What issues are people campaigning about on TikTok? What political activism are people in your feeds discussing? Is it about race, gender, or something else entirely? Ks rely on what is happening in the world to explain their argument. If you see strife and a desire to combat it, you can use that as a motivation for the type of argument you want to read. For example, I have seen students riled up by anti-Asian violence that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic who decided they wanted to find Ks that talked about being Asian in America. You’d be surprised what you can find when you are inspired by the voices of others. 

    Once you decide on your scholarship, there are several ways you can build your understanding. First, there is no shame in YouTube-ing ‘Marxism for Dummies.” There are many people who make it their job to explain complex philosophies in simple formats. These videos should not be cut as evidence, but they can be used as another form of understanding the material in which you are interested. Second, go to the foundational texts. For example, I provided several cards in Lesson 2 on different Ks. Go to the original articles and start reading. Do not read to rush, but read to understand. Take notes in the columns. Write down questions and highlight words you need to define. You must understand the original source if you want to argue about it well within the round. Finally, footnotes are your friend. Examine the footnotes of articles that interest you and use them to continue your research. There are many new authors you can be introduced to who might have different approaches on the K scholarship you are researching. Having options and diversifying your authors can make the process more interesting and produce stronger cases.

    The last tips I will give are about reading the articles you find. You might notice that you have a lot fewer news articles and a lot more 20-page peer reviewed articles when you do this sort of research. Most high school students do not have the time or bandwidth to read that much. What you can do to maximize your efficiency is skim wisely. There are three things you can do to skim: 1) read the abstract to see if it actually has to do with what you are interested in, 2) read the introduction and the conclusion to see if they conclude in a way that is consistent with the K you want to write, and 3) if you want to have an even better understanding, read the first 1-2 sentences and last 1-2 sentences of each paragraph in the section in which you are interested. Hopefully this can narrow down which sources you actually want to fully read so you do not get overwhelmed in the research process.